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Dr. Lonnie Smith: Spiral

Dan Bilawsky By

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Vitality and age might be normally be at odds with one another, but not when discussing Dr. Lonnie Smith—the inimitable organ shaman of the modern soul-jazz epoch. Whether turning in clever takes on the music of indie rocker Beck, recasting familiar standards in his organic organ mold or shaping his own compositions to his liking, Smith never seems to be short on ideas. He furthers the traditional role of the organ in small-group jazz and puts a modern slant on things, giving the music a unique character that is also immediately accessible.

After meeting with some creative Crescent City natives like saxophonist Donald Harrison and drummer Herlin Riley on Rise Up! (Palmetto Records, 2009), with Spiral Smith is back to the organ/guitar/drums combination that's worked so well for him in the past. While some prior albums have added a rhythm guitarist to the mix, Smith rides this one out with his current touring band mates, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jamire Williams. This eight-song program touches on everybody from Harold Mabern and Rodgers and Hart to Slide Hampton, giving the trio a chance to put its stamp on a wide range of music.

A performance of "Mellow Mood," written by organ great Jimmy Smith, begins with some funky drumming and Kreisberg's lithe, steady solo lines contrast nicely with Smith's mixture of space and speedy runs in his own soloing. Williams uses brushes at the breezy beginning of "I've Never Been In Love Before," but moves to sticks when he wants to create a firm swing feel. Smith's electrifying, skittering chords during his solo are the highlight here. Hampton's "Frame For The Blues" slowly strolls along, but the musicians bring back the energy for "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." Kreisberg's insistent rhythm guitar riffing screams for a samba-centered drum groove, but Williams doesn't bite. Instead, he takes a funky approach, owing as much to Questlove of The Roots or David Garibaldi from Tower of Power as it does to modern jazz drumming. Kreisberg crafts some tasty solo lines here and Williams' cymbal work becomes busier and more aggressive as the track progresses, culminating with his solo, over a rumbling organ bottom.

"Sweet & Lovely" lives up to its name and, on many other tracks here, Smith charmingly moans along with his own lines. "Spiral" begins with a sense of hushed intrigue and mystery. Kreisberg's noir-ish lines slink along as Williams tiptoes behind him, and here the guitarist proves to be a moodier soloist than Smith. Mabern's "Beehive" came across as modern-leaning, aggressive post-bop when Lee Morgan performed it in the early 1970s, but Smith gives it more of a fusion slant here. While this one is the edgiest performance on the album, Smith chooses to end things in a more peaceful, worry-free vein with "Sukiyaki." With Spiral, Dr. Lonnie Smith continues to dole out funky, soulful and original musical prescriptions for the people.

Track Listing: Mellow Mood; I've Never Been In Love Before; Frame For The Blues; I Didn't Know What Time It Was; Sweet & Lovely; Spiral; Beehive; Sukiyaki.

Personnel: Dr. Lonnie Smith: Hammond organ; Jonathan Kreisberg: guitar; Jamire Williams: drums.

Title: Spiral | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Palmetto Records

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